It is only when we arrive in Valladolid that it feels like the holiday proper has begun. It is a beautiful, sleepy little place, all colonial architecture, tiny streets and little squares, and couldn’t be more different from the grey concrete jungle of Cancun.
It had never been our intention to stay in Cancun, but it’s really the only realistic entry point to this part of Mexico, and with our flight arriving at 5pm, we didn’t think it terribly wise to set off on the road to Valladolid and drive for two hours in the dark. By the time we have obtained our small red motorised metal box from Hertz at Cancun airport and set off for the town, it is already going dark. Half way into town, it begins raining. Hard. Visibility is reduced to a few metres, and, in a scenario that will be repeated throughout Mexico, we cannot find our hotel. The Tom Tom, we later discover, is directing us the wrong way down the right street. We pull over at a farmacia and I run out in the torrential rain to ask the locals if they know where our hotel is. Even though the hotel is on the street we are on, and I am waving a piece of paper with the street address written on it, the staff at the farmacia do not know where our hotel is. They tell me to keep driving in the wrong direction.
Some time later the street becomes a different street and we realise we must be going the wrong way. We stop again. This time I ask a man in a garage who at least directs us back in the direction we came from. At this point I spot for the first time that the piece of paper in my hands also contains some GPS coordinates. We drive back towards the coordinates, and again–briefly–fail to find the hotel, before realising that it is almost where the coordinates say it should be, just on the opposite side of the road. We pull into a parking spot out front and check in.
Eschewing the dubious charms of the zona hotelera, we are staying for our one night in downtown Cancun, in the hope that we might discover some local colour. For dinner, we head to nearby parque las palapas and hit the food stalls: we try salbutes and panuchos — small round tacos cooked fresh to order, topped with your choice of meat, tomato, onion and salsa picante. We quickly decide that salbutes con conchinita pibil (marinated pork) are our street food of choice (slightly softer than the panuchos, which seem to break when you try to fold them over), although for some reason Sal is unable to remember their real name and will call them salt-em-bancos for the rest of the trip.
After filling up at the food stalls for the equivalent of about 7 aussie dollars, we find a couple of bars, chat to one of the owners, drink our first tequilas of the trip, and discover our new favourite Mexican beer–the beautiful chocolatey delight that is Bohemia Obscura–while listening to a band play covers of rock classics in a bar called the “route 666 bikie bar”, just down from our hotel. The bar is full and we are the only gringos there. A waiter asks where we are from and we tell him that we have just arrived from Australia.
“¿Es su primera día? ¿Que te parcece?”
What do I think? It’s pretty good, I tell him, finishing my beer. It’s pretty good.